The Handmaid’s Tale: “A Woman’s Place”

Once again, The Handmaid’s Tale dedicates an episode to events absent from the novel. It’s good television, but it’s not as strong as the previous installments.

Title: “A Woman’s Place”

Cast and Crew
Director: Floria Sigismondi
Writer: Wendy Straker Hauser, from the novel by Margaret Atwood

Elisabeth Moss as Offred / June
Joseph Fiennes as Commander Fred Waterford
Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Joy Waterford
Zabryna Guevara as Mrs. Castillo
Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia
Christian Barillas as Mr. Flores
Alexis Bledel as Ofglen
Max Minghella as Nick
Amanda Brugel as Rita
Ever Carradine as Naomi Putnam
Todd Thomas Dark as Commander Derek Chambers
Edie Inksetter as Aunt Elizabeth
James Kay as Guardian Officer
Nina Kiri as Alma
Stephen Kunken as Commander Putnam
Glen Schultz as Commander Glen Cooper
Joe Vercillo as Guardian


Serena Joy recalls the early days that helped establish Gilead, and her own complicity. In the present (future?), the Commander and others entertain a delegation from Mexico. We learn that the infertility plague appears to be global, and Mexico seeks to trade for a particular commodity.

High Point

Serena Joy helped plan the society that constricts her—though she will not acknowledge its shortcomings openly. Yvonne Strahovski does an excellent job of playing the character’s dilemma without overplaying it.

The Mexican delegation includes a woman who tries to convince herself Gilead isn’t as bad as it seems, and anyway, it’s another country. You know, the way we accept the massive violation of human rights and basic humanity so long as it happens in countries that supply us with things we need. The slope these people stand on is as slippery as if covered in oil.

Low Point

Certain aspects of this week feel a little too forced, a little too television after what has come before. The pre-Commander whispers openly about plans to take out congress with violence while seated in a crowded public place. Offred finally speaks the truth to the Mexicans and makes explicit themes we couldn’t miss. In cliff-hanger-like fashion, we learn in the final moments, and under slightly far-fetched circumstances, that Luke remains alive, and Offred can get a message to him. These moments fall a little short of the standard set by the series.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6 We have another episode this week that develops storylines absent from the original novel. Atwood only hints at Serena Joy’s background and Gilead’s origins, through Offred’s limited point of view. Here we see much more of these events, though the show’s Serena Joy is quite different from the novel’s. And while the novel’s Gilead engages in international trade (and Jezebel’s is forthcoming on the series), we don’t have the kind of developments we see here.

Effects: 3/6 We have a lot of basic, but effective makeup this week.

Acting: 5/6

Story: 5/6

Emotional Response: 5/6

Production: 6/6

Overall: 5/6 Did anyone else imagine Children of Men taking place simultaneously on the other side of the Atlantic?

In total, “A Woman’s Place” receives 33/42

3 replies on “The Handmaid’s Tale: “A Woman’s Place””

  1. The first low point was made even lower for me by the fact that immediately before they had the discussion in the cinema we had a more private scene where it was noted that some of their group’s members were under surveillance and they suspected the FBI. It’s a *huge* stretch, even in the current climate, to imagine that any group could achieve what they supposedly managed on the compressed timescales implied on the show, let alone when their key members have such terrible OpSec.

    As for Luke, we only heard things play out from June/Offred’s perspective – sirens, shouting, shots fired, more shouting – so there was always a lot of ambiguity there, but given the oppresive paranoia of Gilead, that such precise intel as exactly who is member of The Commander’s household *and* what their familial connections are could be obtained seems a huge stretch. There’s more on that in the next episode and, while it doesn’t help much with the plausibility, it does open up some additional non-book possibilities for subsequent seasons – especially if they are going to be focussing on the overthrow of Gilead that is only implied in the book’s epilogue, which I’m assuming is the intent of it all.

    • Agreed, although the novel indicates (and the series has implied, at least) multiple disasters which lead to a segment of the U.S. becoming Gilead.

      Yeah, it’s just one of those things we have to accept to make the story work. But the theatre discussion really gets in the way of suspending disbelief.

      • While it feels quicker in the series than the book indicates, I think the series is being pretty clear on the timescale of the coup taking several years as things were already in motion before June even got pregnant with her daughter – who is a few years old when they eventually try to flee. Through flashbacks and exposition we know about multiple revocations of various rights, an attack on Congress, martial law via militia, and still on-going civil war all occur before the formation of Gilead. Factor in some charismatic figures helping to nudge things (and Congress / Senate, while they lasted) in the right direction at each stage – not to mention drumming up the huge amounts of support necessary to prevail when civil war broke out – then you can kind of imagine it might, just about, be possible in the timescale suggested.

        Yeah, we have to accept it, and I’m going to put the root cause down to the pressures of trying to simultaneously show Serena Joy’s former lifestyle and how she’s been sidelined despite an apparently significant role in the planning. For something that would require an almost flawless execution of a complicated plan over several years with no leaks or security compromises there really isn’t much leeway for stupid little lapses like discussing the plans in public though, so hopefully it was just a rare oversight.

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